Jewish Insider noted, along with other Jewish organizations, our call for members of the U.S. Congress to sign a letter to the U.N. secretary general urging increased transparency and accountability over UNRWA curricula.
The Biden administration announced Wednesday it would provide at least $235 million in aid to the Palestinians, reversing a decision by former President Donald Trump to halt U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority and organizations that provide services and support to Palestinians.
Wednesday’s announcement follows a series of quiet steps taken by the administration in recent weeks to restore aid to Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
Approximately $150 million of the total aid will be distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the U.N. agency tasked with dealing with Palestinian refugees. UNRWA has drawn criticism numerous times in recent months for distributing learning materials to Palestinian students that glorified militants and promoted violence against Israelis.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan promptly criticized the administration for restoring aid to UNRWA, which he said “should not exist in its current form.”
“In conversations with the U.S. State Department, I have expressed my disappointment and objection to the decision to renew UNRWA’s funding without first ensuring that certain reforms, including stopping the incitement and removing antisemitic content from its educational curriculum are carried out,” Erdan said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said at his Wednesday press briefing that reinstating aid to UNRWA puts the U.S. in a better position to address issues including the organization’s neutrality, accountability and approach to education.
“By resuming this assistance today… we have a seat at the table. We can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think it is in our interest and consistent with our values to do. Obviously, there are areas where we would like to see reform,” Price said. “We will continue to be in a position, an even greater position to drive and to steer UNRWA in a direction that we think is productive and useful with this step today.”
Republican opposition on Capitol Hill to the administration’s announcement was also swift. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) accused the administration of “support of pay to slay,” referencing the Palestinian Authority’s payments to the families of individuals who have carried out terror attacks on Israelis. Graham was an original cosponsor of the Taylor Force Act, which bans U.S. aid to the PA until it halts such payments.
“I am deeply troubled by recent decisions from the Biden administration to turn a blind eye to behavior by the Palestinian Authority,” Graham said in a statement. “Recent decisions by the State Department to provide funding for projects in the West Bank come close to violating the provisions of the Taylor Force Act… A willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians without demanding anything in return is deeply troubling and should worry us all.”
Price insisted Wednesday the aid is “absolutely consistent” with U.S. law, adding that the U.S. had consulted with both members of Congress and regional stakeholders before the announcement.
“We provide assistance in the West Bank and Gaza through experienced and trusted independent partners on the ground, and it’s these partners who distribute directly to people in need, not through government or de facto government authorities,” Price said. “Our development partners in the West Bank and Gaza have aggressive risk mitigation systems in place.”
Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and another original cosponsor of the Taylor Force Act, issued a joint statement denouncing the decision with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The two Republicans argued that Biden should have secured concessions from the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA before providing aid.
“The Biden administration should use all available leverage to secure behavior changes from the Palestinian Authority, including ending terror payments,” Risch and McCaul said. “We will continue to scrutinize every proposed program to ensure the administration’s actions are in lockstep with the Taylor Force Act.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), an original cosponsor of Taylor Force in the House, similarly criticized the administration for failing to address the issue of payments to terrorists in its announcement. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is currently circulating a letter among Senate Republicans calling on Biden to put the aid on hold, citing concerns that it violates Taylor Force and other U.S. laws, the Associated Pressreported Wednesday.
The administration’s move also comes amid renewed action on Capitol Hill to crack down on UNRWA- and PA-sponsored education programs. A bipartisan group of House members led by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) reintroduced legislation on Monday mandating State Department reports on the content of curricula distributed to children in the Palestinian territories.
Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, suggested that the administration and UNRWA “will be negotiating an understanding of the terms of their relationship” that includes “incitement and antisemitism in UNRWA schools.” Goldenberg added that withdrawing all aid “got [the U.S.] no influence or real change.”
A group of Jewish organizations, including Hadassah, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith, the Orthodox Union, the Zionist Organization of America and Christians United for Israel began calling on members of Congress to sign a letter to the U.N. secretary general calling for increased transparency and accountability over UNRWA curricula on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the administration’s announcement.
Jewish Insider quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin in a roundup of Jewish leaders raising preliminary concerns about President Joe Biden's United Nations policies.
Earlier this month, the United Nations agency tasked with working with Palestinians said it mistakenly issued textbooks that call for jihad, or holy war, against Israel. The agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said it was “taking steps” to address their glorification of “martyrs” and calls for “jihad.”
UNRWA issued the apology after the Jerusalem-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education – IMPACT-se released a report analyzing Palestinian textbooks that are used by hundreds of thousands of students in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Biden administration is expected to move to restore funding to the Palestinians, aid the Trump administration withdrew in September 2018. The move would be consistent with Biden’s pledge to “repair our alliances and engage the world once more,” but Jewish leaders and others are looking on with caution, hoping the new administration does not repeat what some believe were mistakes of the past.
Among their concerns is President Joe Biden’s explicit pledge to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council and “work to ensure that body truly lives up to its values,” as the president said in a December 2019 statement commemorating the United Nations’ Human Rights Day.
Daniel Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, told Jewish Insider that his organization hopes that the Biden administration “will work assiduously to eliminate bias against Israel in New York and in the various U.N. agencies, particularly the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
The Geneva-based council routinely “devotes a separate agenda item, number seven, to Israel alone while all other countries, including the worst tyrannies, are lumped together in a different agenda item,” observed David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee.
Harris said that when it comes to U.N. agencies, “the Biden administration can be expected to take a more collegial, less adversarial approach than the Trump team. That said, it needs to be done with issues of fairness and equal treatment in mind, which is certainly not the case, say, when it comes to our ally, Israel, and its treatment.”
The council was created in 2006 to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which had come under international criticism for including member nations that were themselves human rights abusers. The administration of President George W. Bush did not support its creation and kept its U.N. ambassador off the council because of concerns the U.S. might not get elected. (In 2001, the U.S. was defeated in its bid to join the old commission.) Countries with lesser human rights records were elected to the body and helped to set the standards in the council’s early years.
That changed in 2009, when President Barack Obama chose to participate in the council, maintaining that states should “uphold the highest standards” of human rights. The U.S. was the first elected to the council that year. Nine years later, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the council. Nikki Haley, then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., cited its “chronic bias against Israel,” and noted that the U.S. had repeatedly threatened to leave the 47-member body unless it made reforms. She said it had failed to make necessary changes and called it a “cesspool of political bias” that “makes a mockery of human rights.”
With the Biden administration set on rejoining the council — whose membership has included dictatorial regimes and some of the world’s worst human rights violators — the question is whether it “will it be able to enact reforms,” said Gerald Steinberg, a professor of politics at Bar Ilan University and founder and president of NGO Monitor, a policy analysis think tank focusing on non-governmental organizations.
“A huge part of [the council’s] budget is used for bogus investigations of Israel,” he said. “It’s not realistic to expect the administration and a Democratic Congress will meet the hopes of Israelis on these points, but if they are sensitive to them, it will put down some markers in terms of the use of these institutions to demonize Israel.”
Similar concerns were voiced by Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a human rights NGO and U.N. watchdog based in Geneva.
“It will require an enormous amount of effort to get them to do good things,” he said of the council. “But its anti-Israel agenda, its commissions of inquiry against Israel and its blacklist against Israel were unstoppable by both Democrats and Republicans. It is anti-Israel. UN Watch does not object to the U.S. entering the council.”
“We think it could be a force for good,” Neuer continued, “but it has to fight and call out the abuses and double standards and antisemitism. I’m concerned because the Obama administration did try to do good things at the council, but unfortunately became a cheerleader for the council. We hope the Biden administration does not make the same mistakes.”
Regarding UNRWA, the AJC’s Harris said it too has had a “persistent problem of incitement and hatred in their schools and other facilities. American re-engagement [with UNRWA] must also focus determinedly on ending these practices, which, let’s be clear, undermine the integrity of the world body.”
Some 5 million Palestinian refugees are said to rely on UNRWA to provide funding for their schools, healthcare and social services. The U.S. had long been the largest funder of UNRWA, pledging about one-third of the agency’s $1.1 billion annual budget. At the time Trump withdrew funding (which included cutting $200 million from UNRWA’s main development agency, USAID), the former president said he did not want the U.S. to continue to “shoulder the disproportionate cost” of the organization and called upon the Palestinians to return to peace talks with Israel. The move was also seen by some as an attempt to delegitimize the refugee status of some Palestinians and their descendants.
Although UNRWA has looked to other nations to fund its operations, it announced two months ago that its funding has largely dried up and that it would soon be unable to pay its 28,000 staffers and contractors who work in Gaza, the West Bank and elsewhere. Elizabeth Campbell, director of UNRWA’s Washington office, has been quoted as saying she believes the Biden administration will come to her organization’s rescue, noting that Vice President Kamala Harris has said the Biden administration would restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.
Neuer said his organization is also concerned that the Biden administration “might consider restoring funding to UNRWA despite the fact the organization is fundamentally hostile to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. It’s fine to send money to Palestinians, but the U.S. should not be funding an agenda” that promotes the idea that 2 million Palestinians living in Jordan “should have Israeli citizenship… I hope it does not fund it.”
Mariaschin of B’nai B’rith noted that the 71-year-old agency “has for decades raised three generations of Palestinian children on hatred of Israel and hatred of Jews. It is an organization that promises the Palestinians that all refugees and their descendants will be able to return to what is now the State of Israel.”
“If we are going to move the meter on any kind of peaceful arrangement in the region,” Mariaschin cautioned, “UNRWA cannot continue business as usual — engaging in this kind of education of hate, the promotion of hatred and the insistent demand that Palestinians be able to return in the millions to the State of Israel. That is a non-starter.”
“People in the administration and in Congress want to undo everything and signal to the Palestinians that their support network is being restored under the Democratic administration,” said NGO Monitor’s Steinberg. “The question is whether enough lessons have been learned. Just last week a detailed report was released that found that UNRWA’s education system was used for incitement. They found in a new textbook support for jihad. When asked about it, they said they had made a mistake.”
Questions have also been raised about how UNRWA spends its money, Steinberg said, noting that a few years ago the head of UNRWA was found to have “hired his girlfriend at a big salary.”
He suggested that the Biden administration consider “using a different vehicle to send funds to Palestinians.”
Although he said there is concern in Israel that Biden will bring back some of the policies Israel did not like from the Obama administration, Steinberg added that there is “optimism that people like Tony Blinken [Biden’s nominee for secretary of state] who were in the Obama administration and saw the mistakes that were made will be more careful.”
Groups in Europe are focused on additional areas of concern. Adam Thomson, director of the European Leadership Network, a pan-European think tank, said in an email that what his members “hope for — and indeed expect — from the Biden administration [is] a resumption of U.S. leadership on the pressing requirements for arms control, risk reduction and military-to-military dialogue across the Euro-Atlantic area, and especially across the NATO-Russia divide.”
The Algemeiner included our tweet in its roundup of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations' statements in honor of Joe Biden being sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.
US Jewish and pro-Israel organizations enthusiastically saluted Joe Biden on Wednesday as the Democratic leader was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States.
The statements and good wishes acknowledged that during a political career that has spanned almost half-a-century, Biden became a well-known and respected figure among American Jewish leaders and community groups. He first visited the State of Israel in 1973, just prior to the Yom Kippur war in October of that year.
Biden’s lengthy relationship with the Jewish community was highlighted by World Jewish Congress (WJC) president Ronald Lauder, in a statement congratulating both the new President and Vice-President Kamala Harris on Inauguration Day.
“I have known President Biden for over 50 years and know that the Jewish community could not have a better friend and ally in the White House,” Lauder said.
Lauder recalled that when the WJC gave Biden its highest honor in 2016 — the Theodor Herzl Award — he had said in his acceptance speech: “Indifference is silence, and silence is consent.”
Said Lauder: “I know that he will continue to stand by those words as he takes the helm of this country and steers us toward a future of equality, standing up and speaking out for what is fair and what is right.”
As Kamala Harris made history as the first woman and the first person of color to hold the vice-president’s office, Hadassah — the Women’s Zionist Organization of America — hailed the new administration as it took office.
“It is with great pride and full hearts that today America has a woman in the White House, serving the American people in the second highest office in the land,” Hadassah declared in a statement.
“We look forward to working with the Biden Administration on a wide range of issues of importance to Hadassah’s nearly 300,000 members, including enhancing the US-Israel relationship, combating antisemitism at home and abroad, and strengthening women’s rights and women’s health,” the group said.
The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) noted that Biden had taken office at a time of “grave circumstances now confronting the United States, the world’s greatest bastion of freedom.”
The SWC’s dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, cited the Biblical prophet Isaiah in a prayer for the new administration.
“May the day come soon when… justice will dwell in the wilderness and righteousness return to the fertile fields. And may the work of righteousness bring… peace… quietness, and confidence forever,” Hier quoted. “May G-d bless our President-Elect, Joseph Biden, and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and may G-d bless all the members of the United States Senate and Congress. ”
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) founder Pastor John Hagee separately offered his prayers for the new president and his deputy.
“After a difficult and challenging year, I pray the Lord blesses President Biden, Vice President Harris and their administration with the wisdom of Solomon as they lead our nation and the world,” said Hagee in a statement, invoking the Biblical king of Israel who built the original Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
“Christians United for Israel looks forward to working with the new administration, as we continue to strengthen the US-Israel relationship and keep these two nations safe and secure,” Hagee said.
Other US Jewish groups took to social media to congratulate President Biden and his incoming team.
JNS noted our statement in its coverage of the storming of the United States Capitol by rioters.
(January 6, 2021 / JNS) Jewish and Israel-related groups reacted to the mob invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday by Trump supporters as members of Congress gathered in a joint session on Wednesday to certify U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Eric Fingerhut, a former member of Congress, and currently the president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told JNS that he was “horrified” by what happened, calling it “appalling” and blaming the rhetoric by U.S. President Donald Trump in part leading up to the overrunning of the Capitol.
Violence erupted in the afternoon when some of the protesters of the certification process scaled walls and scaffolding, and smashed windows to enter the building. One woman was shot during the chaos inside the Capitol and transferred to a nearby hospital; she was pronounced dead around 6 p.m. Multiple injuries to law enforcement have also been reported.
Jewish groups from both sides of the aisle unwaveringly condemned the chaos on Capitol Hill, with Democratic and liberal groups blaming the president for inciting the violence. Conservative Jewish groups focused on the breakdown of the rule of law, which they vociferously lamented.
“Protesters must stop now. We support peaceful protest, but storming the halls of Congress and the Capitol building is unacceptable. We condemn these actions. G-d bless the [Capitol Police],” tweeted the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Shame on Donald Trump, who has incited violence, sedition, anarchy & insurrection, playing out in real time. He is risking the lives of Republicans and Democrats alike in order to stop the peaceful transfer of power. Praying for the safety & security of those in the Capitol,” tweeted Jewish Democratic Council of America CEO Halie Soifer.
“The orderly transfer of power is a hallmark of and essential to American democracy. We are disgusted by the violence at the US Capitol and urge the rioters to disperse immediately. Law and order must be restored, and the peaceful transition of administrations must continue,” tweeted the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“The peaceful transition of power is the bedrock of our democracy. We are shocked and horrified by the violent riots taking place on Capitol Hill at this time. We urge @POTUS to call for an immediate end to the riots and respect the certification process currently underway,” tweeted the American Jewish Committee.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tweeted, “We share the anger of our fellow Americans over the attack at the Capitol and condemn the assault on our democratic values and process. This violence, and President Trump’s incitement of it, is outrageous and must end.”
Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told JNS that his organization “condemns and deplores the several dozen idiotic lunatics who broke into the Capitol building. The First Amendment does not permit any part of a protest to be violent. And Trump should have made a stronger speech urging this travesty to stop.”
In a statement, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said “extremists must be taken at their word. First, there was volatile rhetoric online, then explicit calls to violence, and now people are acting on those calls in the nation’s capital and flagrantly breaking the law. It must end now.”
He went on to state, “The president has promoted sedition and incited violence. People assaulting law-enforcement officers or breaching government buildings must be arrested and held accountable.
Additionally, Greenblatt called for social-media companies to “suspend his accounts ASAP as they would do for anyone else advocating disinformation and promoting violence.”
On Wednesday night, Twitter suspended Trump’s account for 12 hours, threatening a permanent ban.
‘One of the saddest days in our nation’s history’
In a statement, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called Wednesday “a dark day for all Americans.”
“The right to protest is sacrosanct in American life,” said the organization. “But the very values and rights bestowed by our democracy are degraded and diminished when police officers have to draw their guns to protect our duly elected officials in the heart of our nation by violent protesters who have stormed Congress and by their reckless and dangerous behavior have inflicted grievous wounds on our nation.”
“Nothing,” it added, “not even the emotional charges of voter fraud in a presidential election, can ever legitimize or excuse such behavior.”
B’nai B’rith International called the mob invasion of the Capitol “one of the saddest days in our nation’s history” and called for Trump “to publicly condemn the rioters.”
“The United States Capitol building represents the heart of our democracy,” said the organization. “We condemn those who are engaging in this senseless disregard for the democratic values of our nation.”
“Though it’s horrifying to see the U.S. Capitol under siege, the seeds for this have been planted and nurtured for many years,” continued B’nai B’rith. “We decry the divisiveness in the country that led to this day, and we must re-engage in a political process of compromise, one issue at a time. The election season is over.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council called Wednesday “a sad and dangerous day for our democracy.”
“The violence taking place in Washington, including the attempt to storm the United States Capitol, is despicable,”said the organization. “These actions have been encouraged by the highest officeholders in our nation, reminding us that rhetoric matters and words have consequences.”
“Make no mistake: If order, decency and rational decision making do not prevail, the underpinnings of our social fabric are in jeopardy,” they added.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) said what transpired “was a direct assault on our democratic process, and nothing less than an attempt to disrupt the peaceful transition of power in a presidential election and an act of sedition.”
The Jerusalem Post covered our joint virtual conference with the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy (JISS) on the future of U.S.-Israeli relations.
The incoming Biden administration may waste sanctions leverage the US has against Iran simply because of an emotional reaction to undo everything the Trump administration did, former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said Monday.
Speaking at a virtual conference sponsored by B’nai B’rith International and the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy, he said President-elect Joe Biden will enter office with a major advantage.
The Trump administration has used a “maximum pressure” campaign dating back to May 2018, which has heavily pressed the Islamic Republic to make compromises regarding its nuclear program and terrorism activities, even if Iran has not caved until now, he said.
“It would be a huge mistake not to use this leverage made by the previous administration, only because it was built by the Trump administration,” Amidror said.
There appears to be a feeling among many Biden supporters that anything Trump did needs to be torn down, similarly to how Trump wanted to tear down all of Obamacare regardless of wide support for aspects of the law, he said.
“With the new administration, we might have another problem,” he added. “It is the symbol of destroying the legacy of Trump and going back to president [Barack] Obama’s legacy.”
“The Iranians built their policy on the assumption that, after four years, Obama’s people will come back, and they can go back to stage one and have the bad agreement, which for them was very good,” Amidror said. “If this administration will make it clear when coming in that it will not go back to square one – that when he [Biden] spoke about a new and stronger agreement, he meant it – they [Iran] will have to reconsider their whole policy. This might succeed.”
“If, on the contrary, the next administration will [remove] the sanctions and say, ‘Let’s go back to the old agreement, and then we will negotiate a new one, taking care of all of the loopholes of the old agreement’… there is no chance,” he said.
Amidror suggested a 50-year deal would be needed to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The 2015 nuclear deal’s 10- to 15-year limit was far too short in the history of nation-states, he said.
JNS quoted B'nai B'rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin on President-elect Biden's national security picks.
(November 23, 2020 / JNS) U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announced a number of cabinet and national security picks on Monday that offers a view into the direction his administration will pursue regarding foreign policy. For the Jewish and pro-Israel community, most of the selections by Biden are familiar names who have long-served in senior foreign-policy positions in previous Democratic administrations, while others are newer names to the American public.
Tony Blinken, who served as Biden’s top foreign-policy adviser during his campaign, and was deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor under former U.S. President Barack Obama, will be nominated as U.S. secretary of state.
A GOP-controlled Senate would likely be receptive to Blinken; whether that comes to fruition will be decided after the two Senate-seat runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5. Blinken said during the campaign that a Biden administration would keep some of the U.S. sanctions on Iran and reiterated Biden’s stance that the United States would not return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal unless the Islamic Regime returned to compliance.
Jake Sullivan, who also served as a foreign-policy adviser on Biden’s campaign and succeeded Blinken as national security advisor to Biden when he was vice president, has been named as incoming U.S. national security advisor—a position that does not involve Senate confirmation. Sullivan reportedly met with Iranian officials in 2013 in order to foster a possible nuclear agreement with the regime.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year diplomat, will be nominated as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Avril Haines, who served as deputy national security advisor and deputy CIA director under Obama, will be nominated as director of national intelligence. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to serve in the role, which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies.
Haines was a signee of a letter to the Democratic National Committee that called for the party’s platform to include language critical of Israel, expressed sympathy with the Palestinians and advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Alejandro Mayorkas, who served as U.S. deputy homeland security director and director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will be nominated as U.S. homeland security secretary. If confirmed, he would be the first Latino and immigrant, and second Jewish person, to lead the agency.
John Kerry, who served as secretary of state under Obama after serving for almost three decades as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, will be the special presidential envoy for climate and sit on the National Security Council.
While Thomas-Greenfield is no stranger to the foreign-policy arena, she has no experience on issues pertaining to the Middle East or the Jewish community, as her career focused on African affairs. She was U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 2008 to 2012, director-general of the U.S. Foreign Service, and U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Nonetheless, a U.S. State Department official who works in African affairs and has worked with Thomas-Greenfield, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the official’s employment and not being authorized to speak to the press, told JNS that “she’s great and had a well-deserved wonderful reputation” at the department, and “knows the ins and outs of the department and is amazing to work with.”
Additionally, Thomas-Greenfield met Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in 2011 during the African Union Summit in the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo. The unscheduled meeting happened after Hoenlein, who was part of a delegation not affiliated with the Conference of Presidents, voluntarily walked out of the plenary session after Iran, joined by the Palestinians, objected to Hoenlein being in the room. Thomas-Greenfield had already been excluded from the session. She approached Hoenlein and his delegation, and the parties discussed the Iranian threat and other issues.
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told JNS that the national security team will reflect how the Biden administration will contrast itself from the current Trump administration. “Regardless of what happens abroad, this is going to be nothing short of a transformation,” he said.
Miller remarked that the national interest “will be the object of this group’s attention rather than catering to the needs of a single man’s vanity’s politics or personal interests,” referring to the varying picks of U.S. President Donald Trump.
He said that Biden’s national security team will “for sure” continue the success of the Abraham Accords, though the Iranian issue will be “very complicated” for them.
‘From the more moderate wing of the party’
Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer tweeted that Thomas-Greenfield “will help restore America’s alliances & credibility at the [United Nations], which are critical to our national security & building back better.”
Hoenlein, speaking for himself, applauded the choice of Blinken and Sullivan, noting that even where there were differences, he and the umbrella Jewish organization, “we were able to work with them.”
“Both are very knowledgeable, experienced,” said Hoenlein, adding that Mayorkas is someone “very sympathetic to the concerns about anti-Semitism” and other concerns from the Jewish community.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Barbara Leaf told JNS that Blinken and Thomas-Greenfield as the first State nominees are “welcome on several levels: Both bring deep foreign-policy experience and expertise to their positions, and have led within the department on both policy and the spectrum of personnel and resources issues.”
As to whether Kerry will have any influence on Iran policy, considering that he negotiated the 2015 Iran nuclear as secretary of state, Leaf said, “I think John Kerry is being brought on to do climate, period—something he is passionate about. Two of his big trips in his final year as secretary of state were to the Arctic Circle and to Antarctica to witness and draw attention to the effects of climate change.”
She noted that “Biden has a thicket of people on the campaign foreign-policy team to choose from who are steeped in Iran and that are likely to populate the administration,” and while he “will offer his views” to Biden, the president-elect “will put together a formal Team Iran to run the policy under Blinken and Sullivan.”
Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), told JNS, “Given the approach of the Obama administration and the foreign-policy rhetoric during the Democratic primary, Blinken and Sullivan are certainly from the more moderate wing of the party, and that is reassuring. They’re also thoughtful and experienced experts.”
“However,” he continued, “they were involved in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal and favor re-entering it. That will be a complicated effort, and one that would be disastrous to achieve, so best to withhold judgment until we see how they choose to proceed.”
Regarding Haines, Leaf called her “one of the smartest, nimblest managers and navigators of the U.S. interagency” she has worked with and someone who “brings terrific expertise to the job—in intelligence, counter-terrorism and on a mix of key geopolitical issues.”
If confirmed, Mayorkas will be in charge of the department that, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, manages the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which Jewish synagogues and other institutions have relied upon especially in the aftermath of synagogue shootings and other anti-Semitic attacks over the past few years.
While the Orthodox Union declined to comment on the picks, Nathan Diament, the organization’s executive director for public policy, told Jewish Insider in November that Mayorkas “was a very good partner in the leadership of DHS.”
Aviva Klompas, who was the director of speechwriting for Israel’s U.N. mission under then-Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor, expressed hope that the upcoming Biden administration will continue the Trump administration’s policies of brokering normalization deals between Israel and other countries and on the Iranian threat.
“We find ourselves at a promising historic juncture in the Middle East in which relations between Israel and the Muslim world are blossoming,” she told JNS. “I have no doubt that the Biden administration appointees will want to bring more countries to the table to sign peace agreements and bring greater stability to the Middle East for the simple reason that doing so is beneficial to the region and to the United States.”
“At the same time,” continued Klompas, “I hope they will listen to the many voices in the Middle East cautioning that Iran remains the primary impediment to peace and stability and should be managed accordingly.”
‘Meaningful leadership and partnership in the search for solutions’
Democratic Majority for Israel president and CEO Mark Mellman told JNS, “President-elect Biden is assembling a national security and foreign policy team with broad knowledge, deep experience, and a strong commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. Together with the president-elect, these experienced, crisis-tested professionals will begin to restore America’s world leadership.”
The American Jewish Committee applauded Biden for announcing Blinken as his choice to lead Foggy Bottom.
“Tony Blinken has the breadth and depth of experience to ably oversee the implementation of U.S. foreign policy under President Biden,” said AJC CEO David Harris, who has met with Blinken on numerous occasions in the latter’s various posts. “He is intimately familiar with the full scope of the president-elect’s foreign-policy views, as well the issues of utmost concern to the Jewish community, including full-throated support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, widening the growing circle of Arab-Israel peace, the fight against global anti-Semitism, and the danger posed by Iran and its proxies.”
AJC also praised the appointment of Kerry to the climate role, with the organization telling JNS that “as the first national Jewish organization to have a LEED-certified building, we are delighted to see this new position filled by someone we know well and have hosted several times our Global Forum.”
In a Twitter post, Harris also lauded Thomas-Greenfield.
In a Twitter thread, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami applauded Monday’s developments.
“The National Security team announced today by President-elect Biden represents exactly the type of leadership this country deserves and the world needs after four years of diplomatic and national security malpractice,” he tweeted. “The challenges facing us globally in the 21st century, as well as in the Middle East more specifically, require not just America’s re-engagement but our meaningful leadership and partnership in the search for solutions.”
B’nai B’rith International provided a neutral stance on Biden’s selections of Blinken, Sullivan and Thomas-Greenfield, though declined to comment on Kerry, Haines and Mayorkas.
“We hope the new appointments at State, the NSC and the U.N. will encourage an expansion of Israel’s relations with Arab countries and that they will take a tough line on Iran’s nuclear program and its malign behavior in the region, and will continue a long tradition of fighting bias against Israel at the United Nations,” the organization’s CEO, Daniel Mariaschin, told JNS.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee declined to comment, citing its longstanding policy of not discussing administration nominations and appointments.
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